MINISTER MEETS THE MOB: A man against the tide

mmnewsom@sunherald.comSeptember 21, 2008 

— During the riot in 1962, an Episcopalian rector from Oxford found himself chin to chin with a colorful right-wing Texan who would later wind up in an infamous assassin's sights.

Duncan Gray Jr., who turns 82 today, was a friend of Oxford resident and Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner, and he'd presided over the writer's funeral a few months before the riot.

Gray trudged onto the Ole Miss campus believing one of his pro-integration professor friends had been hurt by the angry mob. The story turned out to be false, so Gray began trying to talk students out of rioting. He noted many older non-collegians had joined the crowd.

"I feel like they (students) were in a sense used and taken advantage of by some of these older mobsters," Gray said. "Some of them would respond and drop their bricks and throw them off to the side and hopefully go back to the dorms."

During one of the lulls, Gray encountered retired Maj. Gen. Edwin Walker, a right-wing activist heavily involved in the riots. The year before, Walker had been removed from his post as commander of the 24th Infantry Division in West Germany after being accused of indoctrinating his troops with the political values of the John Birch Society. An Army investigation didn't support the indoctrination claim, according to the New York Times, but did criticize the general's actions. Walker resigned in November 1961.

After leaving the military Walker fought integration and he came to Ole Miss. Gray recognized him with a group of about 20 men and asked the general to tell the men to go home, saying he knew they respected him. Walker started asking Gray questions.

"He looked at me and he said, 'Well, you are the kind of priest that makes me ashamed to be an Episcopalian,' " Gray said.

After the insurgence waned, Walker - convinced it was a legitimate civil disobedience - climbed the Confederate monument near the Lyceum, Gray said. While Walker called about 300 to action, Gray said he climbed up beside him and begged them to stop tearing up the university. But Walker repeated his negative assessment of the rector, and the mob pulled Gray down off the monument. A deputy sheriff and some students helped Gray and he avoided serious injury.

Walker was a colorful Dallas resident. Besides being involved in the riots, he was the often-overlooked first target of Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who killed President Kennedy in November 1963.

The attempt on Walker's life took place in April 1963, according to a report by the Warren Commission, which investigated the president's killing. The commission concluded Oswald fired a bullet into Walker's home that just missed him. The report was helped by interviews with Oswald's widow, Marina, as well as letters and photographs she provided to the commission.

For his role in the Ole Miss riot, Walker was charged with insurrection and seditious conspiracy, but a federal grand jury did not indict him and the charges were dropped, according to his New York Times obituary. He died in 1993.

Gray, following in his father's footsteps years after the riot, served as the Episcopal bishop of Mississippi. Presently his son, the Rt. Rev. Duncan Gray III, is the state's Episcopal bishop.

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